Sociological View on Family


The conception of family takes a very important place in the Sociology. The institute of family touches upon not only the well-being of individuals but also the welfare of the society as a whole. That is why, it is worthy to analyze its role and to determine its factors of influence on the society. The sociological view on family gives us an understanding of the reasons of people attitude to the family.

The Conception of Family Essence

The conception of family has been a central topic of study for many sociologists for decades. It is closely connected to such terms as love, marriage, divorce, children adoption, and others, which give rise to the discussions and debates among scholars. In general, under the conception of family we understand the union of individuals allowing them to satisfy their emotional, social, and economic needs.

Taking into account this basic explanation, the purposes of family can be identified. For example, the public purposes of family include the maintenance of the human society fundamentals, procreation, ethical and moral values support, while the private ones include the satisfaction of the mental, emotional, sexual needs, the desire to have children, the improvement of the material aspect of life, etc. The sociologists make a distinction between public and private families. Public family, in essence, exists only in marriage and it represents the formal union of individuals, whereas private family does not imply any legal implementation of the relationships and it is commonly referred to as the pair living together without marriage (Cherlin, 2013b).

The History of Family

The meaning which people put in the term of family has always been changing through history. What we understand under the family conception today substantially differs from what it implied in the colonial times, in the period of industrialization, and later decades. The exploration of the colonial houses and their interior can assist in the study of the history of family. If we take a look at the colonial houses of the times of the first settlers’ arrival in America, the following typical features can be defined: very modest décor without any luxury; the part of the walls inside was typically covered with daub; a book shelf, the candles, a cupboard were among typical household items (Interactive History, 2003-04).

The governor’s house was wealthier with more solid walls covered with daub and layers of wool; not the feather bed but the wood one can also be found there (Interactive History, 2003-04). The décor and the household items of the colonial house give us a vision of the family life at that period. Briefly summarizing the described houses, it can be claimed that the family had actually been the way of keeping together in order to survive during these times.

The changes in the institute of family were driven by the development of technologies, industries, communication systems and the media which promoted the ideas of self-realization and self-assertion of the personality. In the middle of XX century the substantial change in the people minds had already occurred. The clip from the 1956 film “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” tells us that the ideal family was the working husband who made money and the housewife looking after the house and taking care for children (Mitchell, 2007). The typical American family image of 1950s was also presented in the famous TV shows of that time which shown the life of Nelson family (Cherlin, 2013a).

“In barely two decades, marriage lost its role as “the master event,” which governed young people’s sexual initiation, their assumption of adult roles and work patterns, and their transition into parenthood” (Coontz, 2005, p.103).

Cancian (1990) claims that “trough most of the twenties century there has been a trend towards more fluid, androgynous family roles and more involvement in self-development and personal life” (p.30). Nevertheless, the issues of marriage remain important for the society. One interesting observation has been made by Andrew Cherlin who reminds us the situation when the American public was shocked by the release of the misrepresented facts, namely, the fault in the statistical data showing that for American women the probability to get married is less than the probability to be killed by the terrorists attack (Cherlin, 2013b). Cherlin wonders why public opinion was so worried by these figures if it supported the idea of the marriages value loss (Cherlin, 2013b).

Fischer & Hout (2005) marked out three groups of changes in the institute of family which occurred in recent decades; in particular, the authors emphasized the increasing number of working women, the fall in the birth rates, and the rise in the number of living alone individuals (Fischer & Hout 2005). Cancian (1990) states that “Americans have become more concerned with individual happiness and pleasure, more tolerant of alternative life styles, more committed to equality for women and men, and more prone to divorce” (p.30).

Sociological Theories of Family

The families of celebrities always draw close attention of the public. It can be said that the pair of Bred Peat and Angelina Jolie is one of the brightest examples in Hollywood. The rumors about their relationships spread when the actors participated in the shooting of the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the public became aware about their relationships in 2006 when Jolie announced that she was pregnant. However, the pair decided to get married only seven years afterwards.

Nowadays, Angelina and Bred raise six children; even so only three of them are their biological children. Two boys and one girl were adopted. Moreover, these children are representatives of different nations: Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.

Undoubtedly, the family of Bred Peat and Angelina Jolie is interesting for sociological studying. In order to characterize it in the sociological context two theories will be used: the feminist theory and the postmodern theory. The former is about the gender roles, which are socially constructed, as well as the gender roles prevalence in the differences of the husband and wife duties in the family, and the later is about the predominance of the personal choice in the man and woman relationships, which can be further characterized by the concepts of self-identity and reflectivity (Cherlin, 2013b). For all that, each of these theories has its strengths and drawbacks.

Among the strengths of the feminist theory, we can distinguish the following its features: the wide pluralism of thoughts which it supports, the focus on the social order rather than the biological roles, its correspondence to the spirit of the Age. However, the theory has its drawbacks including the loss of objectivity due to the exaggeration of the women oppression by men in the society and the overestimation of the role of gender conflicts.

As regards the postmodern theory, we can define two its most important advantages: it is up-to-date and it is based on the modern tendencies in the people lifestyle reflecting their way of thinking, spiritual values and career inspirations. The drawbacks of the theory boil down to the underestimation of the role of conflicts and lack of the systematic approach to society as a whole due to the fact that the postmodernism primarily concerns with the values and goals of individuals.

The Feminist theory would explain Angelina Jolie and Bred Peat relationships from the gender roles point of view, paying more attention to her decisions to adopt children from poor countries at the time when she had not yet started her relationships with Bred. From the feminist theory perspective, this decision was motivated by her desire to express her freedom and independence from man power as well as the inspiration to take a proactive role in society. In contrast, the postmodernism would claim that Peat and Jolie family reflect the modern tendency of self-realization emphasizing the place of personal choice in their relationships.


Summarizing all above mentioned, it can be said that the institute of family has been undergoing changes during the mankind history. The concept of family is evolving in its public and private dimensions making the institute of marriage to compete with the people desire of self-realization and career building (Cherlin, 2013b). Overall, the changes in the institute of family are caused by the change in the social attitude toward the value and importance of marriage and the satisfaction of personal needs. In this context, the sociological theories of family explain the reasons and consequences of these changes from their own perspectives.


Cancian, M. F. (1990). Love in America: gender and self-development. Cambridge, the United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Cherlin, A. J. (2013a). Public and private families: a reader. New York, USA: McGraw Hill.

Cherlin, A. J. (2013b). Public and private families: an introduction. New York, USA: McGraw Hill.

Coontz, S. (2005). What’s love got to do with it: a brief history of marriage. Psychotherapy Networker, 29(3), 100-104. Web.

Fischer, C.S., & Haut, M. (2005). The family in trouble: Since when? For whom? Washington, DC, USA: Georgetown University Press.

Interactive History. (2003-04). Web.

Mitchell, D. (2007). Working Dad; Stay at Home Mom: 1950s Ideal. Web.

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